Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Shaking It Up: San Francisco Industry Movements January 2016

Shaking it up

After a quiet summer, the end of 2015 was a big season for bars in San Francisco. Where is everyone now? We often get emails about where regulars can find their favorite bartenders. So we decided to make it easier for everyone. We're putting together a regular list of where some of the most talented people behind the bar have been coming and going in the past three months.

Hear something or want to be included on the list? Drop us a line at hello@spiritlifestudios.com. We'll fact-check it and add it to the list.
  • Isaac Shumway opened up the new Alamo Drafthouse in the Mission. They are doing kitchen-style service for the theaters and also running a dedicated bar space called Bear Vs Bull. Stacked on his roster are Christian ClarkHelen DiazChad HenryRhachel ShawAndrew Mundy (back from Florida), Joel Baker, Will Popko, Michael Fleury, Ally Opstedal, John Fragola, and Dan Rubin.
  • Claire Sprouse celebrated her last night at the Hideout as she continues her cross-country work with Tin Roof Drink.
  • Johnny Codd is continuing to manage the formidable cocktail program at Gaspar but can also be found making appearances behind the wheel at Bourbon and Branch
  • After leaving BDK, Kevin Diedrich opened up a new popup called Turnkey in the Cantina space. Joining him is longtime teammate Adrian Wong. 
  • Anthony Parks took over the program at Mourad and is on his second iteration of the menu based on the the winter season.
  • Zachary Brian Taylor left the program at Dirty Water and can now be found slinging on Saturdays at 83 Proof. 
  • Randy Mariani helped open the new Oro in Soma and is leading the cocktail program there. The restaurant opened its doors in September. 
  • Keli Rivers is capitalizing on her passion for gin by helping Martin Cate and Alex Smith get going at Whitechapel which first opened its doors in October. 
  • Dan Stahl joins the crack team over at ABV, which means that the "best new American Bar," according to the Spirited Awards, somehow got bestier. He's splitting his time between ABV and working with cocktail innovators Justin Lew and Ian Scalzo at Tsk/Tsk, which is blowing out New Year's Eve before closing down to build out cocktail lounge Horsefeather.
  • Jay Villafana continues his work at the inventory software company Beverager. He's not at Raven anymore (the last party was Saturday), but you can find him churning out drinks at The Slanted Door.
  • Jared Bene, formerly of Bar Agricole and Trou Normand, has taken over the cocktail program at Izakaya Rintaro.
  • Christina Cabrera, formerly of Novela, has taken a new post leading the program over at Barbarossa, which opened in October.
  • The abrupt closing of Chino in the Mission was one of the saddest this year, but you can still thankfully spot Danny Louie pouring out drinks over at Dalva on Mondays. 
  • After 20 years behind the stick, Brian MacGregor left Wingtip and embarks on new adventures working as a local field specialist for The Macallan Single Malt Whisky. Shared Brian, "The decision was not made lightly, but as my family has grown, I now have two beautiful little girls. I needed to have a job that allowed to be more present as a father and a husband."
  • Sam Houston (formerly of Saison and Alexander's Steak House) and William Tsui have both left Jasper's in the Tenderloin and are at work on a new popup called Tiger and Crane. You can also find Will making appearances at Bon Marche and Dirty Water, while Sam has been sighted in LA. 
  • After shredding on the road with his band King Woman, Colin Gallagher is back behind the bar at Trou Normand and Hideout. Catch him before he goes on tour again. 
  • Our bad: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Neil Roche was over at Alamo Drafthouse/Bear Vs Bull. He's mixing things up over at Ramen Shop in Oakland with Chris Lane.
  • Last Call: After a decorated run at Maven, Kate Bolton is off to Portland where she will be managing the bar at Americano—Blair Reynolds's sophomore bar highlighting coffee (Tim Hagney will be taking the post at Maven). SF also said farewell to Don Mallory who left Rich Table to move to the great city of Chicago. He's nabbed a corporate position over at Lettuce Entertain You, a big restaurant company in the Windy City. Kinson Lau, meanwhile, left San Francisco to go shake things up in Las Vegas. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Bear Vs Bull: A neighborhood bar, cocktail watering hole, and flick house all in one [PHOTOS]

Alamo Drafthouse, Bear Vs Bull

It is a truth universally acknowledged that in order to get a decent cocktail, you need to 1) recite a password to gain entry, 2) divine the meanings of a deeply poetic menu, 3) cower at a sassy bartender.

OK, so maybe we're being overly dramatic to make a point (pound sign handonforehead), but lucky for casual bar flies, more and more bars in San Francisco are on a trend to make cocktails less pretentious.

Bear Vs Bull, the bar inside the newly opened Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, is part of that movement.

Drink nerds have been anxiously awaiting the project's opening for months now. The team that originally built a following at Tosca has reunited for Bear Vs Bull. This time, though, they integrate the casual environment of a neighborhood dive with a spectrum of boozy treats: simple but carefully made cocktails, 30 beers (25 on tap), 18 boilermakers, and four frozen blended drinks. Spirits lovers will also rejoice in a wide selection of whisk(e)ys and agave bottles for decent prices.

Alamo Drafthouse

Does this mean that high prices and long waiting times are creeping into dive bars? Not here.

Bottles and cans of beers are available for as little as $2 to $3, boilermakers go for as little as $7, and even pinky-up spirits drinkers will find the menu rife with deals (yes, Hibiki 12 for $12 and Pappy van Winkle bourbon for as low as $35 a pour. Please don't tell anyone else).

Bartenders keep short wait times with quick­ fixes like cocktails on tap, straight­ forward cocktails, and a veteran staff––most of whom have worked in the trenches of high volume watering holes in the city. (Five deep? Pffffttt.)

Bear Vs Bull

Leading the program is beverage director Isaac Shumway (formerly of Tosca, Heaven's Dog, Bourbon and Branch, French Laundry, and Gary Danko) who has built a reputation on his attention to detail.

Many cocktail bars try to loudly flaunt precision and forethought, but Isaac is trying to do the opposite with Bear Vs Bull. He seeks to make the experience so familiar that guests may not even notice the extensive work behind the scenes. 

Bear Vs Bull

The space itself is wedged into a quiet corner of the Alamo Drafthouse, a chain known for comfy, text-and-talk-free movie theaters that allow you to eat and drink while you watch a flick.

Crowds ebb and flow with the show times, as movie goers can casually lounge and discuss plot twists. Between drinks, bartenders rotate a series of rock and roll records to keep the mood fresh. A smattering of tall tables and broad­ backed chairs allow guests to linger without feeling too cramped.

Alamo Drafthouse, Bear Vs Bull

Subtle Baker Drinks

Behind the low key environment, Isaac and his team have sewn together a tightly knit theme that pays tribute to the theater's rich history, the neighborhood, and cocktail tradition.

The theater that Alamo now occupies is over 100­ years ­old, its first heyday in the wild 1920s. At that time, cocktail forefather Charles H Baker was abroad in South America where he was chronicling a drinking culture that would turn into his book A South American Gentleman's Guide to Drinking.

It just so happens that Bear Vs Bull is in the Mission District, a historically Latin community. So Isaac decided to pay tribute to the Alamo Drafthouse's history and its neighborhood by featuring Baker's drinks from his South American travels in the 20s, an often overlooked chapter of the writer's famous history.

In practice, this means honed Baker cocktails from his South American period.

Meet some of these cocktails:

Remember the Mile

This rich and herbaceous cocktail will make fans of Old Fashioneds and Fernet giddy. Christian Clark, formerly of Tosca, Big, and AQ, came up with the recipe for this cocktail, which Isaac says is the Remember the Maine variation that he himself has been unable to perfect for years. The original uses rye, sweet vermouth, cherry heering, and a bit of absinthe.

Christian and Isaac tweak this cocktail by using Rittenhouse 100 (overproof rye), Latitude Adjustment, cherry brandy, house aromatic bitters, and orange peel.

Alamo Drafthouse, Bear Vs BullAlamo Drafthouse, Bear Vs Bull
Alamo Drafthouse, Bear Vs Bull

House Martini

Do you ever ask a bartender how they like their own martini? This is Isaac's. Isaac creates a clean and fragrant version of this beloved classic by using Martin Miller's Westbourne Strength Gin.

You can find the martini on the menu in the Alamo Drafthouse theater or order it off-menu in Bear Vs Bull. Please note the classic martini glass––don't order this one unless you're sober enough to keep the drink from sloshing over the sides. ;-)

Alamo Drafthouse, Bear Vs BullAlamo Drafthouse, Bear Vs Bull
Alamo Drafthouse, Bear Vs. Bull: House Martini

Waxman Special

The ingredients sound strong, but the Waxman Special is an easy sipper, part juicy apple and part delicate bouquet.

Isaac stirs together gin, specially made apple brandy from St George, French sweet vermouth, and yellow chartreuse.

  Alamo Drafthouse, Bear Vs BullAlamo Drafthouse, Bear Vs Bull
Alamo Drafthouse, Bear Vs Bull

Surf Club Mangareva 

This refreshing cocktail sips a bit like a buttery Mint Julep. It combines calvados (French apple brandy), honey, coconut­-washed Cointreau (orange liqueur) and lime and is served in a custom­ made ceramic cup over cracked ice.

Alamo Drafthouse, Bear Vs Bull

Far Eastern Nitro Gimlet

Bear Vs Bull features a three­-drink selection of cocktails on tap, which allows the staff to move quickly but also play with new textures for the cocktails. The original gimlet is made from gin and lime cordial, as beloved by drinkers as it is simple.

Isaac's version uses nitro to introduce tiny bubbles in the gimlet and serves it over a large, clear block of ice. The result is a creamy consistency. He also packs in a pleasant burst of citrus by making the lime cordial in house with fresh lime peels (did we mention he used to cook at The French Laundry?).

Alamo Drafthouse, Bear Vs Bull
Alamo Drafthouse, Bear Vs Bull

Banana Cow

For years, cocktails know­-it-­alls­, er, I mean cocktail geeks, have looked down on frozen or blended cocktails because of bad memories from high-­fructose blended drinks, headache free of charge. That and who doesn't love a high horse, amirite?

Isaac, however, likes to point out that blended and frozen drinks are historical because you can find them in Charles H Baker's book (and we all know that to end cocktail argument among nerds, you simply need to establish some kind of historical precedent).

Bear Vs Bull highlights four frozen and blended drinks to the menu. Each drink is carefully measured to spec and the amount of ice is weighed on a scale so that it has the perfect ice ­to­ drink ratio. While you can't get the frozen drinks in the theaters, you can order them at Bear Vs Bull and bring the frozen drinks into the movie with you.

The Banana Cow is a pleasing frozen swirl of El Dorado 12­-year Guyana rum, a secret ingredient called "Cow syrup," grenadine, maraschino, lime, and half a banana.

Alamo Drafthouse, Bear Vs Bull: Banana Cup

Adult Milkshake 

You can order cocktails, beers, and frozen drinks both at Bear Vs Bull and at the movie theater (see below for the full details, as there are some differences between the theater menu and Bear Vs Bull). Theater drinks are served restaurant­ kitchen style with a full roster of bartenders at three wells that crank out drinks. Bartenders first train in this kitchen before getting behind the bar at Bear Vs Bull.

One easter egg you can only get in the theater (and not at Bear Vs Bull) is the adult milkshake. At $14 or so, these shakes are actually a steal because you're getting the best ingredients––Dandelion Chocolate and Strauss Cream, for example––and they're ridiculously rich, creamy, and smooth.

Alamo Drafthouse, Cocktail Service Wells
Alamo Drafthouse: Adult Milkshakes

Beer, beer everywhere!

Like most cocktail bartenders, Isaac and the Bear Vs Bull team love beer. And they particularly love it with shots. Their beer list, though massive, is carefully cultivated and the boilermakers are as thoughtfully paired as they are delicious.

Alamo Drafthouse, Bear Vs BullAlamo Drafthouse, Bear Vs Bull

Alamo Drafthouse, Bear Vs Bull

All Bear Vs. Bull beers are available in the theaters. You can take Bear Vs Bull cocktails into the theater, but you cannot order Bear Vs Bull cocktails in the theater. The theater has its own delicious cocktail menu, perhaps to be covered at a later date. You can order theater cocktails in Bear Vs. Bull (except the milkshakes).

Bear Vs Bull
2550 Mission St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
Open 2pm­-2am every day.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Anthony Parks's Beautiful Drink Program at One-Star Michelin Mourad [photos]

Mourad_ Anthony Parks _ Spirit Life Studios-12

I don't know about you, but I cannot believe that it is already October (pumpkin spice ramos gin fizzes, anyone? Anyone?). I've been rushing around working on a bunch of articles for other publications, which is why you haven't seen as much on here lately. This fall has brought a flurry of exciting openings, not to mention the annual Eater Cocktail Week (it was my third year contributing to it, if you can believe it).

If you read my Eater articles this month (including some Hawaii tips), you might have seen a few of our shots from our photo session with Anthony Parks, who is newly stationed as bar manager of Mourad (read more about it here). Mourad—which was awarded its first Michelin star Wednesday after less than a year of opening—is a gorgeous, modern space, and Anthony's new drinks are just as elegant. So I'd thought I'd share the rest of our photos. Take a look!

Mourad_ Anthony Parks _ Spirit Life Studios-17

Anthony pours out the new cocktail flight—2.5-oz servings of three different cocktails on the menu for $27.

Mourad_ Anthony Parks _ Spirit Life Studios-7

Mourad_ Anthony Parks _ Spirit Life Studios-57

Making saffron vodka.

Mourad_ Anthony Parks _ Spirit Life Studios-83

Mourad_ Anthony Parks _ Spirit Life Studios-54

Umami and Mint - One of my favorite cocktails on the menu. It's a savory, yet refreshing, blend of Blanco tequila, lemon juice, toasted sesame oil, raw agave, cucumber, and mint. It'll remind you favorably of Korean food, specifically zhajiamian (chewy noodles with black bean sauce, cucumber, and sesame oil). I know it sounds weird, but trust me.

Mourad_ Anthony Parks _ Spirit Life Studios-48

Anthony sprays pipe tobacco moonshine over the Coffee & Clove. The drink is made from the ever so popular Japanese blended whisky (Nikka Coffey Whisky), fino sherry, creole shrub, and clove tincture.

Mourad_ Anthony Parks _ Spirit Life Studios-55

Mourad_ Anthony Parks _ Spirit Life Studios-52

Carrot & Spice comes with everything nice: VSOP cognac, cynar (artichoke amaro), carrot juice, lemon juice, coriander nectar, and egg whites.

Mourad_ Anthony Parks _ Spirit Life Studios-20
Mourad_ Anthony Parks _ Spirit Life Studios-19Mourad_ Anthony Parks _ Spirit Life Studios-21

Mourad_ Anthony Parks _ Spirit Life Studios-18

Mourad_ Anthony Parks _ Spirit Life Studios-26

Trio time.


- Noelle

140 New Montgomery St.
San Francisco, CA 94105

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Cocktails in Florence: Fusion

Fusion Bar

We didn't set out to try cocktails in Florence, but we weren't about to pass up an opportunity. The guys at Ditta Artigianali raved about Fusion, and especially a guy named Marco. After a brief stroll on the river, Noelle and I made our way to Fusion Bar and Restaurant at the Gallery Hotel Art.

Fusion Bar

It's a bit surreal to walk into the hotel. You're immediately bombarded with enormous portraits of American celebrities and a luxury interior. As you enter the restaurant, you find yourself in a nice Asian fusion restaurant with hip jazz music playing. Not what you expect in a medieval city, to say the least.

We arrived early, so it was entirely empty. Over time, though, people began to trickle in. Australians, Americans, and lots of Italians of course. It was never loud, and felt like any luxury hotel bar should feel: easy, relaxed, and comfy.

Fusion Bar

Marco is an absolute beast behind the bar. Watching this guy move is mesmerizing. He's got a kind of natural flair to his movements that you don't see very often. Each motion seems choreographed, but without appearing ostentatious. The casual drinker probably wouldn't even notice.

Fusion Bar

He's more than just moves, too. His execution is spot on. His stirred drinks were never too watery or too boozy, and his shaken drinks were perfectly frothy. Even as orders came pouring in, he never lost his composure. He knocked out drink after drink and still had time to chat with us without breaking a sweat.

Fusion Bar

Fusion Bar, he explained, is a rarity in Florence. Most Italians aren't used to drinking in hotel bars, he said, and those who did were used to Aperol Spritzes.

The Aperol Spritz
Despite the craft part of this craft cocktail bar, lots of Aperol Spritzes still went out.

But Fusion had been around for over a decade, and in that time they'd built up a huge fan base who appreciated the bar's craft approach to cocktails. They were doing fresh juices before it was even catching on in the States.

Fusion Bar

Marco himself was trained as an architect, but his deep love of cocktails put him in a bind. Should he do two things acceptably, or excel at one thing? He chose the latter, and fifteen years later his mastery is apparent.

Americano Twist

Americano twist

I had an Americano twist, something Marco recommended for a warm afternoon in Florence. Instead of Campari, he used Cynar. This helped dry the cocktail out a good deal, and the lemon lingered long after swallowing. Like many Italian cocktails we tried, this was sweeter than the American cocktail drinker would normally experience, but it was by no means cloying. All in all, perfectly executed and delicious.

Grapefruit Rosemary cocktail

We ended with a drink Marco made for a perfume launch party. The perfume was heavily scented with grapefruit and rosemary, so the cocktail matched it by using both a grapefruit infused vodka and a rosemary infused vodka. It was sweetened with a rosemary simple syrup. This drink was dry for the Italian palate, but absolutely perfect for the American palate. Just sweet enough to bring out the rosemary and cut the bitterness of the grapefruit, but one would never call it sweet.

As usual in Italy, Fusion serves snacks with cocktails. They change every day and fit in with the Japanese theme of the restaurant. We had some edamame and kappa maki.

Fusion Bar and Restaurant
Vicolo dell'Oro, 3, 50123 Firenze, Italy
+39 055 2726 6987

Snack: every day, 12.30 - 15.00
Dinner: every day, 19.30 to 23.00.
Cocktail bar: every day, 15.00 to 00.00

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Peek at Dominic Alling's Secret Bird Menu at Beretta [photos]


I imagine that it is within every reasonable person's fantasy to sidle up to a long wooden bar, lean over to the bartender, and whisper hoarsely, "I'll have the secret bird menu." Because honestly: 1) Secrets! 2) Birds. 3) Cocktails. I don't see much not to love here.

Well, it's your lucky day because this can be you, too. Bar manager Dominic Alling offers this illustrated Field Guide to the Birds menu at the much-loved San Francisco restaurant and bar Beretta (which I wrote about a little while ago for Eater).  This selection of 11 drinks is not advertised, but if you ask for it in a low, sly voice (OK, maybe not that part), the bartenders are happy to share it with you.

Just what are you getting yourself into? We took a few pictures to tide you over until you can visit yourself:

[Spoiler alert: Dominic does in fact serve something called a Fernet Branca Jelly. You're welcome, San Francisco. See the last photo.]


Dominic's menu celebrates every detail including this leather-bound menu. Each drink features elegant, intricate bird drawings, illustrated by former Beretta host Melissa Getman.


Dominic (shown below) thought the additional menu was a nice way to introduce some new cocktails without removing some of the popular drinks already on the menu, which have over time become hallmarks for Beretta.


Sage Sparrow. Mint-flavored mezcal, lemon, creme de menthe, velvet falernum, egg white.


Kiskade. Tequilla, lemon, vanilla almond milk, cinnamon, and toasted fennel.


California Thrasher. Rum, bacanora, olorosso sherry, chocolate barley, bitters.




Strange Weaver. Gin, rum, lemon, Campari, Cocchi di Torino, orgeat foam.



Siamese Fireback. Rum, lime, ginger, banana, prosecco.


Bohemian Waxwing. Gin, lemon, Campari, aloe, egg white, rose.


Magnificent Hummingbird. Pisco, popcorn, lemon, candied sour apple syrup.


And, yes, the perfect SF menu item:

Fernet Branca Jelly. Made into a silky solid and served in ginger syrup with orange zest. SF, you are ready for this jelly. (Hashtag obligatory Beyonce reference.)




1199 Valencia St.
San Francisco, CA
(415) 695-1199